A Treasure Recognized... Finally
Each time I enter a Barnes & Nobles bookstore (coffee and books - how much better could it get?) I’m taken aback by the sheer volume of books. New books, old books, books for kids, books for adults and books for every age in between. Books on when to and why to, on how to and how not to. Books on every subject imaginable. And always, the colorful, heavily laden “New Arrivals” table introduces with great fanfare the latest tomes fresh from the presses.
The limelight doesn’t last long. In years to come most of these books, long forgotten, will take their place among thousands of others in musty-smelling overstocked used bookstores.
For all the staggering volume of words people write, most are very forgettable. Few works earn the honored status of being popular lifelong favorites, and even fewer stand the test of the decades or centuries.
In the early to mid seventies, influences from the sixties Flower Power era lingered on. During that time a little poem became quite popular, and posters bearing the verse popped up everywhere. The poem seemed to me to be closely associated with the Flower Power movement, with which I could not relate at all, so I pretty much dismissed it out of hand as vacuous hippie-inspired prattle. At the time I was too young and untried by life to appreciate such a work.
A couple of years ago I rediscovered the poem and found out how wrong I had been.
The poem is “The Desiderata of Happiness” by Max Ehrmann. Penned ninety years ago, it’s as relevant today as then. Since it was written we’ve become more technologically advanced, but taking a world view, we’re still dealing with the very same problems that have historically faced all people. Which is why the wisdom in this simply-worded poem is so profound, so inspiring, so practical. If I could live my life from this day forward following the principles so gracefully set forth here, I think I’d consider my life well lived. Below is the poem. Don’t skim it. Focus on what it’s saying; read it slowly and deliberately. Thoughtfully consider the truths it offers.
The Desiderata of Happiness
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
For such scarcity of words, it really covers a lot doesn’t it? No “here today, gone tomorrow” work, this one has firmly held its place in hearts and minds as the years have passed.
The truths it encourages: “Go placidly”; “speak the truth quietly and clearly”; “enjoy achievements as well as plans”; “neither be cynical”; “take kindly the counsel of the years”; and “be at peace with God” are even more enduring than the work itself. If we take time to cultivate these truths in our lives they will serve us well- for this year and for many years to come.